Peyton Jones shoved the puck away from the goal and into the open ice on his right side as the time ticked off the clock in the final period at Pegula Ice Arena on Friday.
Nikita Pavlychev collected the puck and as he crossed the Penn State blue line, passed the puck to Sam Sternschein with the score tied at 2 apiece.
Sternschein carried the puck into the Wisconsin zone, lined up his shot and fired.
The goal horn sounded and the fans in Pegula Ice Arena rose to their feet as Sternschein found the back of the net for go-ahead goal as No. 12 Penn State beat No. 7 Wisconsin 4-2.
The goal by Sternschein is his third of the season and the second goal of the weekend for the New York native.
“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” Sternschein said. “I didn’t think I was having the greatest game and I got a bounce my way and I was just really fired up to score that goal and put us in the lead.”
Sternschein, who scored nine goals last season, is having his best start to a season since he arrived at Penn State and it’s coming after he had an incredible experience this past summer.
The junior participated in the New York Islanders development camp and made the most of his time with his local NHL team, scoring a scrimmage-high four goals one night at the camp.
“He’s a kid that has always scored and the reason that the coaching staff is happy for him is that he is a great kid that’s working really hard,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. “It’s nice to see when he is doing well and conscious of it that he gets rewarded like he did tonight.”
For the first time this season, Penn State was able to play a complete 60 minutes of hockey, two nights in a row and complete the sweep of the Badgers in the Nittany Lions’ first Big Ten series of the season.
“It probably has more to do with the evolution of our program than for what we’ve done in two weeks,” Gadowsky said. “This has been a long time coming and we don’t have it yet by any means but you just have to keep building on your experiences and we’ve had many over the past several years.”
Penn State only swept a Big Ten opponent once last season, at the beginning of February against Minnesota.
“I think this through six periods was probably one of our best performances,” Gadowsky said. “Consistency is something that has been a challenge for us and will continue to be.
“Certainly by no means have we arrived there at all, but it is really nice to see.”
The way Penn State was able to grind out these performances, specifically on Friday night and prove that it could do it in back-to-back nights was certainly different than in years past.
Previously, Penn State would rely on its high-flying offense, a flurry of pucks on the net and its aggressive forecheck to break teams down.
The Nittany Lions would overwhelm opponents with their offense.
But on Friday, Penn State did it with its defense.
Wisconsin came into this weekend averaging 4.50 goals per game, which was second in the nation. Penn State held them to just three goals in two games.
“I don’t think it was adjustments from last weekend or earlier this weekend at all,” Gadowsky said. “Its adjustments that we tried to make from last year to this year that take a little while to sink in.”
Penn State played defense as a unit on Friday night and were willing to sacrifice their bodies in order for the good of the team.
At the end of the second period, Paul DeNaples blocked two shots, back-to-back, in what became an important moment for the Nittany Lions heading into the second intermission.
For Sternschein, the defensive performance comes from a mindset the Nittany Lions had going into the weekend.
“Really just play in their end,” Sternschein said. “If we play behind their D, they can’t score on us.”
“We know if we play in their end they can’t do anything.”
Gadowsky has emphasized in the past weeks about how he wants his team to grow on the defensive side of the ice, without giving up any of its offensive firepower.
And that’s exactly what they did against Wisconsin.
But, at the end of the day for Penn State, this is just one of many Big Ten series they will play this season.
It was just one weekend of consistent, high-level play, but in order for the Nittany Lions to reach their lofty expectations this season, they know they need to do it again, and again.
“Even though we won our first few games, we saw what happened when we didn’t play our hockey,” Sternschein said. “Even though we were winning, it didn’t feel like we were winning. And this weekend, it really felt like we played our game; and if we can keep this going, we can beat anyone.”